Planning a wedding on a budget, How to keep quality while cutting cost in all the right places.
So you’re getting married!? It’s probably your first time planning a wedding. You might have an idea in your head or a pintrest board of what you’re envisioning, or maybe you have no idea where to even start.
Before you read any of this, I want you to close your eyes and try to imagine your ceremony & your reception.
These are the 2 main things you need to get an idea of, everything else can be filled in easily.
-What do you see? -Who is there? Where are you? What do your surroundings look like? What do you feel like?
Have an idea?! Perfect! Lets get started!
Now if you’re like 98% of the population you probably don’t have access to unlimited money. So lets start talking the big M word. MONEY.
I have been photographing and helping my couples plan weddings for the last 8 years. I’ve been involved in hundreds of weddings & I’ve learned a few things
The top concerns when it comes to any wedding budget usually includes Cost + Quality.
I’m writing this blog to help all couples plan a wedding of quality, while cutting costs in areas possible. Basically, I’m trying to help you decide what ways you could divide your budget to get the wedding experience you want!
The top 7 things that will affect how much money you spend on your wedding.
1)THE GUEST LIST
3)THE PHOTOGRAPHER + VIDEOGRAPHER
4)THE DRESS + OUFITS
5)THE FOOD+ BOOZE
6)THE DECOR + FLOWERS
7)THE HAIR + MAKE-UP
While you read through them make a priority list- Most important to least. This will help you make decisions of your own after reading the options and info.
1) THE GUEST LIST
This is a BIG one, they are your peeps, and you want them all to be there. Even if having all of them there means you only get to spend 4 mins with each of them. I get it! But I have to talk about it, because this will drastically change the cost and what options you have. So think on this one for a while. Its pretty easy to understand that less people, means less food, a smaller venue, more venue options, less rentals, less décor, less COSTS.
So before you do ANYTHING, get your guestlist under control. Depending on your venue & food choices, cost could vary $75-$500 per guest. So you can see right out of the gate you can save a TON with a smaller guest list.
I have heard numerous times “if I have a smaller wedding I wont have a good party”. I’m here to tell you a big wedding does not guarantee a good party. In fact most of the craziest wedding receptions I’ve ever been to had 30-75 guest! When you have a large (150+ guest) wedding, a lot of people tend to be extended family. No one likes to be home in bed by 9 like the Aunt or Uncle you only see every few years at family functions.
Now I understand every family is different, just know this. Your wedding isn’t a family reunion. I love family get togethers, but try your best to not be hosting the family’s next reunion.
I have found that the smaller weddings (around 30-75 peeps) create not only a more intimate feeling, but they also open the door to one hell of a party.
You see, generally when you’ve cut the guest list down that much, the only people coming are your absolute closest friends and family. And if they are close with you, chances are, they know each other and people who know each other aren’t afraid to let loose together.
So if it’s the party you want, please dont under estimate the party at a smaller wedding, Just remember how amazing those 50 person house parties were!
I understand family obligation and I know it hurts not to invite EVERYONE. But when it comes to the day of, the couples that I’ve seen go through the least amount of stress (both financial and non-financial). Are the ones that got to spend the day with the closest people in their life.
When any of my couples decide to “cut the list” and shrink their wedding . They always feel bad that they couldn’t invite everyone. I suggested sending out cards to anyone you weren’t able to invite. a $2 card explaining your decision and sending your love, letting them know that you were thinking of them is much more affordable then a $75-$500 obligation invite. Now all this being said, There are situations and circumstances that make a large wedding unavoidable, or maybe you just really want a big wedding! If that’s the case, Then just put it on the top of your priority list, we can cut cost without giving up quailty in other ways.
Some small weddings for you to view…
Marisa & Paul In Canmore
Trevor & Taya in Nordegg
2) The Venue
OK, you got a guest list figured out?
Now let’s talk Venue! this one is a gooder, because it could be on the very top of your priority list, but depending on what you want. It could be one of the most expensive or least costly things on the list!
If your having a large or a small wedding…
Option 1) Hire a wedding venue
PROS– You get a gorgeous location that can hold all your people and if you hire a quality one you can save a ton in rentals & décor. If you are looking for ways to cut work, THIS is it! Wedding venues have everything ready for you to use, many of them come with table clothes, lights, and some even include set up and take down in your package
CONS-Big money-Hiring a large wedding venue can run anywhere from $5000-$12000 for the venue- That normally only includes the venue itself, the table and chairs, and some décor. Most likely that doesn’t include your food, florals, extra décor, the bar or entertainment.
READ THE FINE PRINT are you able to do your own bar? because you can actually make some money back from doing your own bar, if you do a 2 or 3$ bar and buy your own booze. Do you have to hire their caterer? Because some caterers connected with venues can be ridiculously costly (I’m talking 200+ a plate expensive). What are the hidden costs? Is there anything NOT included in their package? What are the operating hours?
If you’re wanting a large wedding and you want to put hiring a wedding venue on the top of your priority list, but you still want to keep the cost down, it can be done! Just be prepared to put something large, like food, the dress or photography towards the bottom of your list.
Check out this wedding at a wedding Venue Katrina & Dan @ Hill Top
Option 2) Hire unique “non wedding venue”
Lets be honest, once you put the word wedding into something, the price goes up. its sad, but its true! So if you’re wanting to hire a venue or your need somewhere that can accommodate a large number of guests. Get creative! Summer camps, restaurants & pubs are amazing locations for a unique venue!
Check out this wedding in a restaurant Jill & Andrew @ the Deane House
Option 3) DIY-Wedding Venue
SO many ways to do this! You can save big here if you’re willing to do some work! If you have a location/property such as a friend or family member’s land, you can easily do a tent wedding. rent multiple tents, not just one big one, this will cut down the cost. I have also seen an amazing set up made from 3 large Costco tents (purchased for less then the rental) set-up in a U shape. Placing the dance floor in the middle of the tents outside, which was AMAZING.
If you’re willing to clean out the family barn or quonset, that can be STUNNING & the best part… It’s usually FREE.
PROS- DIY Wedding venues are the most cost effective, if you’re willing to do the work. If you’re planning on renting everything & doing a lot of décor. You might just add up a tab just as high as hiring a wedding venue, so be aware of the little things. They add up!
CONS-To stick to your guns and do all the work yourself is ALOT OF WORK, If you have 1.5-2 years to plan your wedding, the work can be spread out nicely and keep you from feeling overwhelmed. There are a lot of rental costs-The tents, tables, chairs, bathrooms, lighting- booking a couple years in advance or building some of it yourself are good ways to cut costs
Check out this DIY wedding in a Quonset Victoria + Lee @ home
But what if you have NO-WHERE to do this beatuiful DIY wedding?
Renting a camp ground or renting an old hall- and setting up a garden or tent wedding right there are both fabulous options
A Tent set up at a Camp Ground DIY
PROS-they are usually already beautiful landscape & you can find them in beautiful areas, even in the mountains. Its also pretty awesome for your guests to be able to pull their trailers there and stay the weekend. A lot have bathroom facilities so you can cut that rental cost down.
CONS-Lack of kitchen- A lot of campground do not have kitchens. so depending on your food situation, this could be an issue. But there are plenty of portable caterers such as Pig roast , or if you are hiring someone to bring your pre made meal, be sure to have some warming blankets to keep your food warm to get to the location. Also like any DIY wedding, they are more work then just hiring a wedding venue
Check out this wedding with tents at a campground Amber & Cody @ Buck Lake
A Tent set up at a rented old Hall DIY
PROS– you can find small halls all over alberta in the country side that have room for camping and only cost $200-500 for the weekend. The best part is, not only can you use the kitchen in the hall, but you can use the bathrooms, the tables, the chairs, the plates, the utensiles, glasses, coffee machine- ALL OF IT! If you can get the location, the kitchen, 80% of the rentals and a place for your guests to camp all for a couple hundred dollars for the weekend- you’re WINNING!
CONS- Old halls can be pretty ugly- but the easy solution is getting a hall on a fair size piece of land so you can set up your tent- You will most likely have other rental costs as well- Aside from the tent, you may want nicer chairs then what is at the hall and halls normally don’t have table clothes.
Check out this Wedding in a Tent outside of a hall Kris + Darby @ Burbank
If you are able to cut down your guest list, you open up endless oppurtunities when it comes to Venue/Location.
Where you stay and get ready becomes a unique experience with a small wedding- booking an airbnb that can host everyone- or close to everyone is now a possiblity, extending your wedding into a weekend away with friends and family.
Ceremony can literally happen ANYWHERE- I’ve hiked to cliffs, lake edges and mountain sides with guests- carrying a few chairs for the older guests or sometimes for everyone. If you have chosen to shrink your list & have a intimate wedding, PLEASE take this oppurtinty to have a unique and beautiful ceremony site! Anywhere you think is beautiful!
Dinner & Party
The Reception also becomes much more flexible! Have a restaurant you love? Ask them about booking the whole place for the night, or staying open for your dance. Alot of restaurants and pubs are happy to reserve the entire place for a private event- When It comes to cost, Some have a flat rate of “food/alcohol purchase”- Then your paying for your food/drinks and venue all for one price- (this also all but elimanates décor cost) Also, its an easy option to have your guest pay for their own dinner and pitch in to meet the required payment through a partial open bar. Or vise versa
Small Wedding Pros
Tent and backyard wedding receptions also become more attainable and less work with less guests- a small tent or even a garden party theme wedding works well on an acreage or park- and with minimal people, there’s no need to rent plates, glasses, bathroom facilities, as you can use your own-or borrow nice ones. Tables and chair rental or building costs are also dropped.
One of my favorite ideas is a back woods tent or garden reception. One or two small tents- a few beautifully decorated tables and elegant chairs set up in the middle of no-where. You can usually find provincal or national parks that will allow you to host your tent or garden wedding out in the remote country for a minimal cost
Bottom line is, with small weddings- you can take your ceremony & reception any where you want. The fixings for a small person wedding can be packed into a horse trailer or rental van and driven anywhere.
All you need is a tent (not necessary, but probably a good idea) which can be purchased or rented for anywhere from 200-1000. Tables (built or rented), chairs ( that can be used for the ceremony & the reception), table clothes, your minimal décor (because the location IS the décor), lighting, possibly a generator for power if you are off grid, and food (but well talk about that soon!)
See some examples for yourself
OK, So being photographer I may be biased, I obviously would put it at the very top of my priority list. I’ll try to keep it short as to why it would be a huge part of my budget.
1) It is the only physical memory you’ll have of your wedding day, not just “the day” but the people there & a full documentation of you in that period of your lives.
2) An inexperienced photographer (trust me I know about them, I was once one myself) can make a beautiful setting look less magnificent with low quality images. While an experienced photographer should be able to make any setting magical with their images.
3) The photographer you choose will effect your day substantially, if they are stiff, grumpy, or just have a bad attitude, then it doesn’t matter how great their images are, you’ll always remember the experience you had with them. The same is for a good, uplifting attitude, a good photographer should have the knowledge to help you plan your day effectively & keep calm when unforeseen circumstances pop up!
Things to think about…
-Every couple is different, you need to find a photographer that suits YOU
-Its not just the photos, do you like their personality? will you enjoy being around them ALL day? It is important that you have similar priorities as your photographer. If the most important thing to you is the family portraits-it should be the most important thing to them too! If the most important thing to you is to have candid or artistic moments, it should be the most important thing to them as well!
-Are they knowledgeable about photography, lighting & weddings?
-Are they helping you plan & sharing their knowledge with you?
-Do you LOVE their photos- how they shoot, what they take photos of? Who they take photos of?
-What does the package include? Is there a time limit? Will they stay for the party? Are there “hidden costs?” -such as travel, copyrights, prints, accommodation. What’s the bottom line number?
What does an experienced Photographer cost?
While every photographer charges differently, the guest list will effect your price, as most photographers charge less for elopement or smaller weddings. You can expect $3000-$5000 as an average for a smaller wedding or elopement. While full sized weddings normally range $4000- $8000. This is based on a full coverage day & engagement session, both of which I STRONGLY suggest. The importance of engagement photos is not so much the photos, as it is the opportunity to get to know your photographer & to get the chance to see yourself in their photos. Trust me, you don’t want a stranger in your face all day on your wedding day!
To summarize- when it comes to photos, you get what you pay for & if photos are something that’s important for you, book early, REALLY look at their photos & GET TO KNOW YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER.
Videographers are a whole other breed, The photographer will run the day and most of the “posing & directing” while the videographer is more like a fly on wall- They generally will do most of their planning with the photographer- So the main thing to consider is- Do you love their videos?
Videographer Pricing can vary from $1500-$5000 some photographers are partnered with a videographer & some photographers do both (I do both) generally you get a discount for bundling photography coverage + videography coverage with one company.
The Dress and Outfits
THE DRESS- I get it, its a big deal- but please, don’t drink the kool-aid.
A dress, is a dress is a dress- I have seen 100’s of dresses on 100’s of brides & I can say with 100% honesty that $150 dress is JUST as stunning as a $6000 dress.
The most important things to consider
Do you feel beautiful? more expensive doesn’t mean it makes you feel any better.
Shop around! You can save thousands of dollars by doing just a little hunting. I have met plenty of brides that go to the shops & have a “dress day!” and pick out their favorite, only to order it online for 30-50% off!
Realistically if you’re shopping around or ordering online, you can expect to spend approx. $200-$1000. The best discounted dresses in the store are generally in that price range and if you do order one online for $200-$500, you should budget for more alterations. As the biggest complaint from brides who order online is that the size was not correct & they needed to do more alterations then expected.
I think the best way to stay on budget is to not allow yourself to go over it. When you go shopping, be honest- if your budget is $1000- tell them you DO NOT want to see anything over $1000, don’t budge unless you aren’t liking any of the dresses in your set budget. And if you do find a dress out of your set budget that you love, look that exact same dress up online! you might find it for much cheaper elsewhere
If you’re open to ordering online, it can save you thousands. But it can also be very overwhelming! My suggestion is going & trying a few on-find out what style feels the best & then ordering it online- If the first one isn’t what you’re looking for, you can order probably 20 dresses online before you get to the cost of purchasing on in a store.
Side note- I have ordered dresses online, from a number of different sites. My styled shoots are generally $150 dresses & no one has spotted the difference.
The other outfits
Groom- If you are wanting a suit- consider this, Is your wedding in the summer? Will he be wearing the suit jacket? I honestly prefer the comfort grooms have without suit jackets. If you think a suit jacket would be a waste, check out purchasing his suit rather then renting. Dress pants & shirts can be less expensive then a suit rental- you also have more options! The finishing touches that brings his outfit together such as the vest, suspenders, tie, tie clip, cuff links & so on can all be ordered for substantially less online!
Wedding Party- First off, every bride that I’ve talked to has had their wedding party pay for their own attire. So please don’t feel pressured like you are expected to purchase or rent it for them.
The Groomsmen are quite simple- similar to the groom, but less. Don’t get too caught up on matching shoes- same color different shade always looks fun!
The Bridesmaids- This is really dependent on what you want! There is several ways to do it.
1) Everyone matches- same dress, same cut. Now, not every dress fits every body the same, so unless all your bridesmaids are shaped similarly, this could be a struggle.
2) Matching color-different cuts, while this helps with the different body types, it still locks everyone into one color, therefore, all the dresses will most likely need to be ordered or purchased from the same place, normally the only shops that have 4-6 different cuts in the same color will be bridal shops. Which can be expensive
3) A consistent pallet- My personal favorite- not only for looks but for cost as well! If you are open to the bridesmaid wearing different colors & cuts while keeping the dresses consistent with tones and one pallet. It opens up the opportunity to allow everyone to purchase within their own budget and to fit each of their body types.
The Food + Booze
This could be one of your biggest expenses or your smallest. My thoughts is that the food will literally turn into feces, so I would be placing this near the bottom of my list. However, I have worked with couples that prioritized food on the very top, So I’m going to give you the options I’ve seen over the years & what you can expect to pay for it!
1) Full catered
If you don’t want to do any work what so ever, and you want to buy your guests their meal, you can expect to pay anywhere from $20-$200 per plate, which can add up really fast depending on the size of your guests list. From my experience, if food is important to you, you’ll be looking at approx. $40 per plate for an average meal. If you are booking with a venue, be sure to read the fine print- can you bring your own caterer or food? Or are you locked in using their caterer and bar? (this is where you might find the $100+ plate costs)
If you’re open to something different, food trucks can be more affordable & less formal then a caterer.
If you’re not afraid of a little leg work, you can save yourself thousands of dollars by pre-making the meal & hiring a ladies club or caterer to cook & serve the meal on the wedding day. I have worked with couples who have pre made lasagnas, beef on a bun, casseroles, spaghetti & meatball sauces and other kinds of pre made meals. Then hired help for the day of to cook and set up for serving the meals the couple & their family had pre made.
This option is much more affordable & depending on what meal you choose to pre make, you can expect the cost to range $5-$10 per plate on ingredients & $100-400 on hiring out the services of cooking & serving the meal.
Just what I mean, a potluck! This generally works best for smaller weddings. When you only invite 20-50 people, its safe to say that they are your closest friends and family and while a potluck may seem like you are asking too much of your guests. Please remember people WANT to help you, it makes them feel involved and important. And if planned well, its not too much work for any one person. For a less stressful day, I still suggest hiring out the task of preparing the meal & serving it out. Timing can be difficult and you don’t want the food getting cold. I find it works best if you have your closest 20-30 people each responsible for their one piece and having a hired individual to gather, cook and lay out the meal together. Purchasing the serving dishes so they all match can be a nice touch when it comes to appearances.
4) A little bit of both
The smoothest and most cost effective DIY caterer I’ve seen was pre made meats & main by the couple. While having the cold foods & salads brought in by family in a potluck matter. Once again, I still strongly suggest hiring out the task of putting together the meals & serving it out.
I’m all for cutting costs where you can & pre making the food is one way to save yourself thousands of dollars, however I would never suggest trying to assign the work of the day of to a family member or trying to do it yourself. It doesn’t cost that much to have someone put the food in the oven and serve it up, trust me. Its not a responsibility you want to put on your mom or yourself on the day of!
That being said, I will say this one thing… If you are having a small wedding (like less then 40) and your dad/grandpa/uncle is a griller. They might be honored if you asked them to run the barbeque and grill up steaks, burgers or whatever for everyone. Running the grill can be grand social position and it might be their time to shine. So long as it is a reasonable number of people- please don’t ask your Dad to grill 200+ steaks and burgers & chain him to the grill for hours on end.
When it comes to booze, you can actually make money towards your wedding by purchasing your own booze & hiring a bartender to serve the drinks & collect $2-3 a drink. Make note of this if you’re booking a venue! Some venues don’t allow you to purchase your own booze, some charge regular price to you or your guests ($6-11 a drink)
The Décor + Flowers
This is very much based on what you’ve chosen to do for a venue. If you have chosen a restaurant or a gorgeous venue. This could be a very small cost. If you’ve chosen an outdoor setting, the natural is the best décor you could ask for. If you’ve chosen a blank venue or to DIY this could be a large expense. But I do have a few ways to cut costs.
1) DIY– gathering your own greenery/ flowers is an easy way to save money, however this can only be done a couple days before the wedding & need to be kept in the correct atmosphere so you don’t have a bunch of dead greenery & flowers on your hands come wedding day.
This was all greenery & flowers collected 2 days before the event & put in water in a cool room, the flowers & greenery were hung the morning of the event & kept for 24 hours.
2) Buy it used– Face book Groups and kiji can be a great place to purchase used décor for your wedding. Its more work gathering it & you can make most of your money back if you’re able to resell the décor after your wedding
3) Renting- Now this is the most expensive, but if you have a specific vision, it is certainly the easiest. I will say gathering, buying, making and selling is probably the largest job in the DIY wedding world. You will save money, but in the long run you have to consider the time, money & gas it will take to find what you want, or make it, pick it up and put it together. If I were given the choice, personally. Id rather take one day, go grocery shopping and make a premade meal in 1 day and save myself $1000-$5000 on food, rather then endure the weeks & weeks of hunting down, making or gathering up pieces of décor, only to save myself $500-$2000 on décor.
In short, Décor is so personal & dependent on what you want that its is difficult to give you a price tag- the long and skinny is this…
If you choose a naturally gorgous venue, whether that be inside or the beauty of nature- You will save big on décor.
If you chose to spruce up your venue with decorations explore your options-somethings are better off bought, but the selection can be limited. If you have the know how, building your own tables, seating and décor can be an inexpensive option if you’re willing to do the work of selling it in the end.
I think a mix of gathering, making & renting is the best way to get what you want for the best price!
Once again- This is very specific to what your vision is, I do find the more in nature your wedding is, the less you need to spend on florals- as your setting is already green & lush. Touches of florals even outside in nature can be beautiful!
If you choose to book with the florist, the expense may surprise you. Basic florals can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on what & how much you get. I do think there is a place in the middle! Hiring a florist for things like your bouquet, the boutineers & the more complicated floral arrangements, while doing the brides maids bouquets and the more simple arrangements on your own (such as hanging greenery & doorways). Hiring a professional for the tough stuff & tackling the easier jobs on your own can be a great way to cut costs & get a great look for less.
If florals are important to you & you are going to DIY, I’d suggest having the boutineers & your bouquet done by a professional, these are the things that fall apart when not done properly.
Here is a great price starting page to show you costs from a real florist!
Hair & Make up
First off- Once again, don’t feel obligated to pay for your bridesmaids hair & make-up. That being said- don’t hire the most expensive person because you think it will be better make up. This is another area that I can safetly say- expensive doesn’t mean better!
I work with several fantastic make up artist & hair stylist who are half the price of others & as a photographer- I see no difference. Please, book early & shop around!
This is an area I have seen plenty of DIY- a friend of family member who is good at hair &/or make-up. If this is an option for you, then go for it! BUT please do a trial run! not only for how the hair and make up will look, but consider TIME, if they are not a professional, it may take them twice as long, which is 100% OK, but you need to budget for that time!
If you find a stylist that offers both hair & make up, you will usually get a deal for using them for both. Price for a professional should be approx. $140 for hair & make up for a simple do & “face paint”.
Always consider time- If you have multiple bridesmaids and Mom’s having both hair & make up done, its going to take time. If you are able to hire a couple stylists- you will cut your getting ready time in half. Saving you from a 6am wake up!
I hope this blog has helped! Google tells me that the average wedding costs $42,400. I think its an attainable goal to have a budget for much, much less & still have a magnificent wedding day! As a wedding photographer- I understand that I am a large chunk of that bill. I truly believe that your photographer is and will always be the most important vendor you hire. I believe that your photographer should help you with your timeline & other details, as it will effect the photography. I have seen hundreds of weddings. I have kept mental notes of the best places to cut costs without cutting quality. So if I could summarize this entire blog I’d tell you this…
Do what you want, Don’t be afraid to ask for help, people want to help you.
Prioritize what is important to you & create your budget accordingly.
Do what you can on your own. Don’t think for a second that you’re expected to do things a certain way. And if you’re afraid of what people will think always, always remember..
The ones that mind don’t matter & the ones that matter won’t mind.